WARSAW – The European Commission chief said Thursday that Poland's right-wing government is responsible for fully implementing the steps on judiciary independence that will make the disbursement of billions of euros in EU pandemic recovery grants and loans for the country possible.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was in Warsaw to officially confirm the EU executive's long-delayed approval of Poland’s pandemic recovery plan, which would enable conditional release of the funds.
“The approval of this plan is linked to clear commitment by Poland on the independence of the judiciary,” von der Leyen told reporters.
She stressed that Poland's ruling right-wing majority “is responsible for making sure that the milestones (regarding the judiciary) are met."
Von der Leyen met with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and President Andrzej Duda, who authored a law currently processed by Poland's lawmakers that aims to remove the sticking points that held up the recovery plan’s approval for months.
The agreement on Poland's recovery plan includes “milestones” in ensuring judiciary independence that Poland needs to reach before any of the nearly 36 billion euros ($38.5 billion) can be made available.
The EU has frozen the funds due to the Polish government's political control of the judiciary. The disciplinary regime for judges, which the Polish government has used to punish critics, must be changed and given new rules, while sanctions applied to judges must be reviewed and lifted if deemed unjust.
“First payment will only be possible when the new law is in force” and all other conditions are met, von der Leyen said.
“We are not at the end of the road for the rule of law in Poland,” she added.
Poland's lawmakers are still working on changing Supreme Court regulations to abolish the controversial Disciplinary Chamber, but will replace it with another body of professional accountability. Only one of the dozens of suspended judges has been reinstated, but to a different section in his court, and has been ordered to go on leave.
The commission's approval of Poland's recovery plan must be confirmed by the other 26 European Union member states within four weeks. It would see the nationalist government in Warsaw eventually gain access to 23.9 billion euros ($25.4 billion) in grants and 11.5 billion euros ($11.7 billion) in loans.
The funds seek to enable Poland to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic and make progress with its green and digital transitions and well as strengthen its growth potential and economic and social resilience, the Commission said.
It reached the decision Wednesday, even as some European Parliament lawmakers expressed deep unease about democratic backsliding in Poland.
It still will be months before Poland can make its first request for the pandemic funds.
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